RALEIGH — Drayson Bowman has never been so ready. Or so close.
The Carolina Hurricanes forward has lost about 15 pounds and never felt more fit. He has played in all four of the Canes' preseason games, hustling, battling in every zone.
"I've done all I can do," Bowman said. "I've gotten the opportunity, played hard, been smart with the puck. I feel comfortable out there and don't feel out of place."
But where does he fit? And the same can be said for Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk, like Bowman, young forwards looking to secure a roster spot with the Canes for the upcoming trip to Europe, hopefully for the season.
Following major roster cuts over the weekend, 26 players remain in training camp. After giving the players a rest day Monday, Canes coach Paul Maurice said he will begin putting together the lines, seeking a good mesh, in today's practice.
"We won't set the lines, but we will more closely start looking at getting the right combinations," Maurice said Monday.
Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen appear set as the top three centers. Dalpe is bidding to be the fourth, although it could be Pat Dwyer.
Jeff Skinner, the Canes' first-round draft pick, got a look at center early in camp but appears more comfortable on the left wing. Skinner, who had the game-winning goal Saturday in the Canes' 1-0 win in Atlanta, should be on Jokinen's line opposite Chad LaRose.
"No complaints. I'll play wherever they want me to play," Skinner said, smiling.
Sergei Samsonov, who has looked sharp in camp, was pushing for a top-line wing spot until suffering a sprained neck in Saturday's game.
In Sunday's practice, Maurice had Patrick O'Sullivan on Staal's line with Erik Cole.
Tuomo Ruutu should be on the right wing on Sutter's line, with either Jiri Tlusty or Bowman pushing for the other wing slot.
Tlusty, 22, played 18 games for Carolina last season after being obtained in a December trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He also was with the Albany River Rats, then the Canes' American Hockey League affiliate, but tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during the Calder Cup playoffs.
Tlusty has been skating for several weeks and went through noncontact drills in camp. Maurice said Tlusty now has been cleared for contact and should play in a preseason game this week.
The fourth line will have veteran Tom Kostopoulos on one wing.
Dalpe and Dwyer are interchangeable at center or the wing, and Boychuk - the team's first-round pick in 2008 - is an option on the wing.
"I got stronger over the summer," Boychuk said. "I'm laying a few more hits, and that's good. I grew up being a go-to scorer, but you've got to pave your way into this league and find a role. You're not going to start on Eric Staal's line every night, so you've got to push and battle.
"Once you get the trust from the coach that you can play defensively and you can battle hard on that forecheck, then you get those opportunities and then you start scoring goals. You take it step by step and do whatever it takes."
Maurice said the team is allowed to take 25 players to Europe, where the Canes will play an exhibition game in St. Petersburg, Russia, next week before opening the regular season with two games against the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland.
Maurice said the Canes likely would take eight defensemen and three goaltenders. If Samsonov is healthy, one forward will be reassigned to the Checkers.
Bowman, 21, got in one preseason game last year before being sent to the River Rats. Getting a late-season call-up to the Canes, he scored his first two NHL goals in a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bowman made an offseason change: Instead of using a personal trainer, he followed a workout regimen and nutrition plan set up by Pete Friesen, the Canes' trainer.
Bowman said he weighed 199 at camp last year but has shed "baby fat."
"I feel a lot quicker and a lot stronger out there," he said. "I feel one or two steps quicker."
Bowman played four preseason games in five days last week but said fatigue wasn't an issue.
"I was really pleased to see that his best was his fourth," Maurice said.
But Bowman said the pressure of camp, of competing for a roster spot, has been draining.
"Every day when you get out of bed it's high intensity," he said. "But it's nothing I can't handle. I just keep going."
Bowman already had shown some stamina before camp. He drove to Raleigh from the family home in Littleton, Colo. That was 27 hours in his Ford F-150.
"I figured I needed a car for whatever happens," he said.
Bowman's just hoping it's not for a drive to Charlotte.
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